Question on Civil Liberties: Harry Potter and the Hobbesean Sovereign
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Apr. 6th, 2011 | 09:59 pm
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From the comments on the last Harry Potter post:
reasonandmusic:I was actually looking up the Wizengamot today and both the Lexicon and the wikia agree that it's rare for the accused to have the equivalent of our lawyers. It can happen, but it's only an option. Despite this making me go o______o at Hogwarts' legal system, it might shed some light on the lack of things like debating at Hogwarts.The idea that the Wizarding world has few to no guaranties for the rights of the accused, a limited free press if Fudge's leverage with the Daily Prophet is any indication, etc. makes me go 0______0, too. And I've since been trying to puzzle out why wizards would accept an autocratic bureaucracy. And, maybe I have an idea of sorts about why that might be? Feedback or suggestions on this would be great.
The International Statute of Secrecy, the agreement that settled Wizards would be going into hiding, was signed in 1689 and took effect 1692. I think it's probable that, probably, many individual nations had gone into secrecy before the international agreement passed, and even in nations which hadn't already formally gone into secrecy my totally unsupported intuition would be that already wizards were setting up a highly insular and detached society of their own with little to no interaction with social and political movements in the Muggle world. If that's the case, then some of the most famous works on the Rights and Liberties of citizens of the Enlightenment might not have received the same currency in the Wizarding world as our own. Locke's Two Treatises of Government was first published in 1690, and Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government in 1698 (posthumously, with Sidney having been put to death for treason in 1683). Jean-Jeacques Rousseau wouldn't be born until 1712, and among contractarian thinkers before Locke: Grotius, Pufendorf (who has the best name ever), and Suárez, I don't think there's much talk, other than in Suárez, of a right of revolution. (I think, but my reading in those three is pretty shallow) All of which is to say that I imagine Wizarding society developed apart from a bunch of the people who shaped political thinking as it exists today.
More importantly, Wizarding society is secret. I've mentioned this point in previous posts, but I don't think until recently I've appreciated the enormity of the collective action problem presented. You have a few thousand wizards in a country, plus the families of muggle-born wizards, aware of a secret society. You need almost perfect compliance to keep the secret, and the consequences for failing are exposure among a much larger people who, with near unanimity, want you dead (although admittedly they suffer under some grave misconceptions about the most efficient way of killing you). And, assuming the secret does get out, a response needs to be immediate. How can a secret among thousands of people stay secret if all that is necessary for a return to witch hunts and persecution is one person breaking trust or being careless? Managing slip-ups needs is a large enough job that it needs a dedicated organization: a very large, very intrusive organization that knows what is happening in all Wizardom at any given time. Enforcing secrecy requires the ability to swiftly punish anyone who might break the trust of the Wizarding community. More shortly, wizards are a society in an unceasing state of paranoia, and their laws reflect it: they tolerate a corrupt and self-serving bureaucracy because it has thus far succeeding in keeping them secret, and the instability of its removal itself might attract muggle attention (the Wars against Lord Voldemort pushed the ministry nearly to its limits in preserving the secret of wizarding society). It is, almost exactly, Hobbes' solution to the state of nature applied to the very different circumstances -- the problem being solved here differs in the notable respect that the incentives to break the trust of wizarding society come from a desire to share one's abilities with friends or neighbors rather than human selfishness. It is not the prisoner's dilemma of getting out of the state of nature which is the same, but the use of a powerful sovereign to enforce and prevent the dissolution of a public agreement which is the same.
Some corollary points. I asked in previous posts what defined membership in wizarding society, and if it was even meaningful to ask that question. These remarks offer a potential answer: knowing and keeping the secret is what it means to be a witch or wizard. Whatever differences the community might have, however alienated one individual might feel, they do not expose wizarding society (it's worth pointing out that Gellert Grindlewald didn't believe in remaining secret and, though I can't be sure of it, I faintly recall Voldemort intending the same eventually? Neither were terrifically popular). This also offers some insight, maybe, into the thinking behind anti-muggle-born and anti-werewolf bigotry. Both, for different reasons, pose a greater risk to keeping the secret than a pure-blooded wizard might. Muggle-born wizards might be tempted to tell close friends or extended family, having not been born into wizarding society. Their attachment to muggle society is a threat to the continued secrecy of wizards. Werewolves, who periodically lose control of themselves, pose the threat of revealing wizards by accident. In the end, both appear as risks toward the secrecy that allows wizarding society to exist.
But I could be totally wrong or way off. Also I haven't proof-read this at all so if something's unclear please point it out.